Junebug

October, 2005, Comedy

Directed by:Phil Morrison

Starring:Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz, Celia Weston, Benjamin McKenzie, Alessandro Nivola, and Scott Wilson

Junebug is one of those small, independently-made films by a first time writer/director team that makes you believe intelligent movies aren't going to become extinct after all. An improbable comedy of manners set in the contemporary south, Bug contains a host of lovely performances from its ensemble cast, capped by one so lustrous it should be immediately nominated for an Oscar. Skip the plot's holes and ignore the rather static, unimaginative transition shots--concentrate instead on this sharply observed tale of Madeline, a fledging Chicago art dealer, (played by the sensuously attractive Embeth Daviditz) who marries a handsomely quiet North Carolinian named George and heads "back home" with him. She's ostensibly interested in meeting his family, but her agenda also includes romancing an unlettered artist she's interested in representing who just happens to live about half an hour away from George's family manse.

George’ family comes equipped with all the stock figures in southern comedy; the suspicious chain-smoking mom, a father who mutters and putters in his garage making bird cages and surly younger brother Johnny, struggling to complete his GED while  Ashley, his spacey motor-mouthed wife lurches towards the delivery of their first child. As Madeline kiss-kisses her way through Ashley's baby shower and stares approvingly at her husband's hymn-singing performance at a church potluck dinner, she remains so intently focused on landing the next artist in her stable she's oblivious to the effect her style and mannerisms are having on George's family. Johnny makes a pass, mistaking her touchy-feely approach for a sexual come-on; George's mother can barely suppress her disdain for a daughter-in-law who can't cook, speaks with a vaguely British accent and looks stunned when invited by the local pastor to attend services. When Ashley goes into labor, guess who skips going to the hospital with the family in order to make her final sales pitch to the nearby artist? What's family really good for anyway?

Screenwriter Angus MacLachhlan gets the dialogue just right and the wondrously talented cast delivers it with a consistent degree of loopy warmth. As Ashley, Amy Adams delivers a performance nearly as stunning as that of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote; comedic roles rarely earn acting awards, but Ms. Adams certainly should. She manages the balance between character and caricature as though she was balanced on a circus high-wire and the results are simply astounding. 

Anyone who has ever spent any time in the small-town South will feel right at home here; Junebug's characters may be hayseeds, but they embody values more fundamentally worthwhile than Madeline's artistic ones. George disappears from the proceedings for no ascertainable reason and the subplot involving the enmity between George and his sibling never gets resolved, but for sheer enjoyment, it's hard to beat this knowing examination of contemporary mores as seen through the eyes of a clueless big city sophisticate. 

Be sure you catch this one from the beginning as the courtship of Madeline and George is presented in a series of freeze-frame stills during the opening credits, packing a romance into a brief, wordless summary. Best of all, since the camera work is pedestrian at best, this one can be enjoyed at home on DVD when it's released in that format later this year.

The verdict? A small, sly gem.

    

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